My favorite part of Legian, in an unsurprising and moody turn of events, is a nameless, quiet back street that snakes through temples and homes, squeezing past high rise condos and trash heaps alike. The noise from the busy roads fade behind me in almost an instant, motor bikes and “Hello darling!”s swallowed up by walls almost as old as the women that sell bracelets on the beach. Solid, grey bricked walls let flowering bushes and laundry lines peek over the top. Down these narrow byways, it’s so quiet that the sound of my cheap flip flops flapping along creates a disturbance. I am so clearly an outsider in this silent world. I try to tiptoe past gates in the wall, behind which women and chickens and motor bikes are perched, watching me pass with questioning glances. Silly tourist. You don’t understand. Go back to the shops full of bumper stickers and the clubs and the mojitos and the surfers. There is nothing here for you. We are not a museum or a zoo. These are our lives.
I feel intrusive. Their private lives peek through the heavy brick walls, their children’s deep eyes watch me unflinchingly. I think that the streets and houses and temples fit together like Tetris pieces, then wonder if they’ve ever heard of the game. I keep walking down the jagged path, too far now to turn back. The heat and the silence combine into one entity, sitting on my back, my only wandering companion. The little stone pathway would be beautiful if it lacked the signs of the developed world: water bottles and plastic bags litter the corners, as if to say “Remember? You did this. Remember? You are a blight here. Dirty. Blemish.” And I am. Earlier, in the night, I had probably drunkenly accepted a ride on a motorbike through this very street, whooping and squealing in what I hoped was an attractive way so the man driving the motorbike would sleep with me later. I must have been intently focused on the wind in my hair, on my hands on his chest and hips, I wouldn’t have seen the Tetris street hugging homes so close. Kissing the banks of filthy streams. We must have broken the silence long before I had the chance to notice.
But at midday, I carry my silent passenger, steaming and weighing down on me like a child getting a piggy back ride. It whispers in my ear: stranger. A title I fully feel I embody: a strange girl in a strange land, doing the strangest thing. Walking alone down the quietest street, asking questions with my eyes. Drinking in intricate, tiny temples in all their detail. Giving each statue and stone a hard stare, committing them to memory. Deities whose names I didn’t know stared back at me. The sun followed me closely, seeping through my thin cotton romper and sucking moisture out of pores I didn’t know I had.
Then, faintly in the distance, I hear the rumble of traffic twist its way down the narrow street. I am approaching another main road. It’s time to say goodbye to silence, to shake it off and join other tourists marching along the sidewalk, sidestepping the merchants and beggars and street dogs, looking for something specific, following their phones to alcohol and friends. I take a peek behind me, back towards the stolen quiet and the maze of the quietest street. Then I step back into the noise, a place where someone like me belongs, is welcome. “Yes?” Ask the motorbike drivers. “Come, cheap prices, half price,” invite the shopkeepers. Club music echoes and mixes together from open air bars, traffic hums its reassurance. Humanity. Civilization. We have what you need. We need you. Buy something. Go somewhere. I breathe in, and the silence is gone.